On Friday night, Donald Trump headlined a rally in Alabama, where the president continued his campaign against Hillary Clinton. “If Crooked Hillary got elected, you would not have a Second Amendment, believe me,” he said. “You’d be handing in your rifles. You’d be saying, ‘Here, here, here they are.’ You’d be turning over your rifles.”
As if on cue, the audience began chanting, “Lock her up.” Trump, bemused, responded, “You’ve got to speak to Jeff Sessions about that.”
It was a reminder that the president, who threw an Oval Office tantrum in the spring in which he called Sessions an “idiot,” still isn’t pleased with his attorney general. The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump told a group of supporters last night about his dissatisfaction with the Alabama Republican.
At the dinner with conservative leaders, Mr. Trump expressed frustration with Mr. Sessions’ March decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s probe of Russian election meddling, according to three people present for the conversation.
“You could feel it dripping with venom,” one dinner guest said. “It was something else.”
As the article described the context, a guest asked the president a policy question, when “his mood appeared to shift.” Trump encouraged the attendee to direct the question to the attorney general’s office, before adding, “He recused himself on Russia, which he should never have done.”
But let’s not overlook the point driving the presidential whining: Trump seems to realize that the Russia scandal represents an existential crisis for his administration, and he’s outraged because Sessions isn’t in a position to make the problem go away.
Circling back to our coverage from July, the broader context matters. When Sessions took over as attorney general, the Justice Department was already pursuing a counter-espionage investigation into Russia’s election attack. The probe included scrutiny of the Trump campaign and its interactions with Russian nationals, which created an obvious problem for Sessions: he not only played a role in the Trump campaign, he also had previously undisclosed conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States, which he seemed to lie about during his confirmation hearings.
Sessions’ recusal, in other words, was a no-brainer.
But the president is nevertheless convinced the attorney general’s decision was “extremely unfair” to him, and we probably know why: Trump apparently saw his attorney general as an ally who would “help” the White House on matters like the investigation into the Russia scandal. The only reason it’d be “unfair” to the president for Sessions to recuse himself is if Trump expected Sessions to steer the investigation in a way Trump liked.
And that’s no small thing. In effect, the president is arguing that the attorney general should’ve overseen the probe in order to protect Trump from any embarrassments or consequences. Even now, months later, the president is fuming, in part because the Russia scandal is intensifying, and in part because his ostensible ally in the Justice Department isn’t participating in a cover-up.